Druids, Paladins & Shamans, Oh My: Why Hybrid Classes Don’t Work

Druids, Paladins & Shamans, Oh My: Why Hybrid Classes Don’t Work
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I should preface this by saying the idea behind a hybrid class is fantastic. I’m the sort of player that can’t stand being pigeon-holed. I like flexibility. To be stuck in the same role for months, even years, in a massively multiplayer online game sounds like torture – the sort you’d endure if someone were to swap your butt with your gonads and force you to sit the same way you always have.

Ouch? You better believe it.

No one likes being sidelined, underpowered or having their class poorly understood by their peers, but these are the issues hybrids have had to endure since the dawn of massively multiplayer games. Is there a solution to the hybrid problem, or should players of classes like the Druid, Paladin and Shaman face the fact that they will never be balanced?Why World of Warcraft?
Observant folk will notice that the Druid, Shaman and Paladin are all classes from World of Warcraft. They also happen to be the top three attempts I’ve seen at experimenting with the concept – the jack of all trades, the offensive hybrid and the defensive hybrid, respectively. If you were going to design a hybrid class, these are the prototypes you’d experiment with.

I’m using World of Warcraft as my foundation for two reasons: 1) I have extensive experience playing the game (and I also use quite a few links to the WoW forums to illustrate my points) and 2) it shows how a designer’s original concept ultimately did not work in the framework of a game aimed at demographic that always wants to excel i.e. hardcore gamers. It’s important how “excelling” is measured, but we’ll get to that later.

For now, let’s discuss what “hybrid” means.

What’s a hybrid?
From dictionary.com: anything derived from heterogeneous sources, or composed of elements of different or incongruous kinds.

Okay, that looks confusing. Heck, I had to look up “heterogeneous” to remind myself what it means (from a foreign source, if you were wondering). Essentially, a hybrid is an entity made up of various, different elements.

But that’s, like, everything in the world! We need to tighten our definition and make it relevant to the classes in an MMO. So, let’s start with the “foreign sources”. Almost all fantasy MMOs revolve around the tank/damage/healer design, or “holy trinity” as it’s called in the business. These roles form the base classes, with the tank absorbing hits, the damage dealing it out, and the healer keeping the former two at their peak.

The history of the holy trinity can be traced back to pen and paper role-playing games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons. We’ll revisit this later, but for now, we have our sources.

So a hybrid can be a tank/healer (Paladin), a damage/healer (Shaman), a tank/damage (the soon to be released Death Knight) or all three (Druid). How do you go about balancing these hybrids against their one-dimensional counterparts?

1 + 1 = Learn to play
Balance, at its core, is mathematics – after all, the strength of your character is but a collection of numbers in a database. A common method to come up with initial values for statistics, damage, healing, etc. is to throw all the potential variables into a spreadsheet and graph the results of various scenarios. For example, you want a boss to take five minutes to kill using a party made up of the trinity – healer, damage and tank – and drain 50 percent of their resources. By tweaking the boss’ health, rate of damage, resistance to effects, etc., you come up with an opponent that this party can kill within the established time frame. With this prototype battle established, you can playtest to account for those annoying random occurrences or situations you didn’t factor into the original balance model.

Let’s pretend, mathematically speaking, a party needs to equal “3” in order to be considered “average”. It cannot contain more than one of each class type. Pure tank, healer and damage classes all equal one, so adding one of each gives us our three.

How is a hybrid represented mathematically? Let’s say we have our damage/healer hybrid. It’s half a healer, so that’s 0.5. It’s also half a damage dealer, so that’s another 0.5. Added together, we get one. There’s no problem, right?

Wrong. That hybrid has to fill one of our three roles completely in order to equal our average party – or “3”. If our party already has a tank and a healer, then our damage/healer hybrid must fill the role of the damage dealer. But the class is only half a damage dealer, so our party equals 2.5. In essence, the party is below average, and will have difficulty completing our five-minute boss.

This is the problem, I believe, World of Warcraft encountered early in its life cycle. People aren’t looking for a class that can’t excel at anything. Sure, players of hybrids will say they’re fine being a lesser substitute, but when push comes to shove, no one wants to be left behind because a pure class does better.

What can we conclude from all this? Mathematically speaking, the “half and half” hybrid is flawed.

But games are more than maths, of course.

The practical hybrid
You can’t have a hybrid that’s as good as the classes it is based on. Why then, would you play anything else? There has to be compromise.

Let’s go back to D&D. Now I said that the holy trinity has its origins in this pen and paper RPG. This is somewhat true. D&D had its fair share of hybrid classes. The Cleric is the best example – a fighter that can heal. D&D has been around for over two decades, and the cleric has been a part of the game since 1st Edition. So how did the designers go about balancing the Cleric?

They didn’t. Wizards of the Coasts believes it’s done a decent job of putting the Cleric in its place in 4th Edition, but even in 3.5 the designers believed the class was “good at too many things”. While the class lacked the finesse of a fighter, it possessed its core strengths – armour, hit die (health) and weapon proficiencies. Add reliable healing and multi-purpose spells on top of this, and you have a class that, on paper, is unbalanced.

I’m going to tell you a little secret: this is intentional. Something you have to understand is, if you play a hybrid, you’re naturally asking for more responsibility. This is the compromise. You have to master two or more roles instead of one. As a result, the reward should be greater. For a hybrid to work practically, it has to be a little overpowered. But only if played well. Take out the min-maxing, add in your average player, and classes like the Cleric balance out because casuals and chronic re-rollers tend to focus on one role.

But we can’t take out min-maxing, because it’s the players at the hardcore-end of the things that are going to complain. As long as it’s fun and easy, casual players don’t really care where their class falls on the power scale.

Healing factor
Healing also factors into this intentional overpowering – grab 100 players of any MMO, and more of them will say “dealing damage is more fun than healing“. Hardly scientific, but look at it this way: sure, you might like healing your mates all the time, but you’re not healing those instance bosses to death. And when you grind, those 100s of mobs don’t die under the blinding light of your healing spells. No, when you boil it down, players like dealing damage over everything else.

So to “excel”, a class must be able to deal appreciable damage in Player versus Environment content, or be able to defeat another player before they can make proper use of their abilities. It is by this metric that players determine whether a class needs to be buffed or nerfed. Of course, this is only important in a game where damage is vital to winning.

WoW has no true hybrids
The designers of World of Warcraft decided not to take the D&D way of balancing hybrid classes. Once they clicked on to the fact that “half and half” hybrids don’t work, all classes that fit into the category were fundamentally changed. Now, with the correct spending of talent points, WoW hybrids can fill the roles of the primary classes they’re based on, as long as they’re willing to not be a hybrid.

Yes, some flexibility remains, but not enough to really be called a hybrid. No, the WoW hybrid is now a class that can change its role with talent points rather than a re-roll. It’s definitely a way of solving the problem, but put simply, WoW no longer has true hybrids.

A solution?
So, what have we learned? Pure “half and half” hybrids don’t work, because they cannot excel at any role; “half and half” hybrids must be overpowered to be worth playing; players like to hurt enemies more than heal friends; and damage is the metric by which most classes should be balanced, at least in the minds of players (who are your paying customers, after all).

I don’t think it’s possible to remove damage as a metric – it’s burned too deeply into our brains that hitting a bad guy with a sword or fireball is path of least resistance to victory, loot, fame, etc. We need to forget about roles and replace them with themes, centred on damage as an equaliser.

As such, next week I’m going to put forward a replacement for the holy trinity, and a way to have true hybrids, of a sort. No tank. No healer. Everyone has their time in the spotlight.

Update: I’ve seen a few readers post about talent respecs and how this makes the three World of Warcraft classes mentioned in the article true hybrids. Sadly, this is not the case.

I won’t argue that a Paladin can’t devote itself into the Protection tree and become a great tank, or throw everything into the Holy tree and not heal like a pro – because it can. Blizzard has done an excellent job of giving hybrids a new lease on life by allowing them to specialise as one of the holy trinity. But that’s not what the article is about.

Tell me this: if a Paladin is Protection-specced, you’re not going to ask it to main heal. True, it can technically do it – the skills are there. But is it optimal or even noteworthy? Not at all. It doesn’t matter that a Paladin, with the correct gear, can serve in both roles with a simple respec. The point is that it can’t be both at the same time, and remain competitive against classes/specs that are dedicated. The case I’m making is that a true hybrid is, balance-wise, not possible in any MMO.

I’d also urge everyone not to get the game and the theory confused. This isn’t about a particular class in a particular MMO being over or underpowered. If it helps, replace WoW and Shaman/Paladin/Druid with another MMO and its offensive hybrid/defensive hybrid/jack-of-all-trades.

Editor’s note: Kotaku Australia previously posted several articles detailing the real life experiences of a powerleveller. You can begin reading the three-part series here.

Comments

  • I think that this is a large reason for Diablo’s charm lasting as long as it has. By NOT focusing on the holy trinity of tank damage healer, each class sees an amount of action based on it’s power level rather than filling a niche.

    That said Diablo is and old, old game and far from perfect, having it’s own chasms of imbalance between power levels such as the blizzard sorc or the hammerdin. But the principle is still there. If you take away the need for a dedicated tank, healer, and damage dealer – you force everyone to do all 3 of those things themselves. All that is left to do is balance the power levels between each of the classes (which diablo didn’t get right by a long shot lol) which is less design and pure math.

  • The whole concept of a hybrid doesn’t fit with the entire MMO idea in the first place. I think you’re writing under the assumption that to have fun in an MMO is to play in a party. And that’s right. The problem is that Hybrids aren’t really made for partying. The whole jack of trades thing is pretty much for people playing solo, and that doesn’t work in MMOs at all. MMOs are about community and cooperation and stuff, so the “holy trinity” works there. Hybrids belong in single player games. It’s kind of a waste of online time to play solo in an MMO.

  • The whole point of a hybrid is that you’re not as effective at doing the job as a non-hybrid, but you make up for it with your utility in other cases. Personally I play a prot Paladin in WoW. I can’t tank bosses as effectively as a Warrior could, but I make up for that by being able to heal, off-tank, res and supply some useful buffs.

    I guess that what Blizzard need to do is figure out some kind of niche for each of the hybrid class specs.

  • all i want to say is hybrids have specs, and just because u have a few talents points in a dps tree doesnt mean u r a dps. the talent trees are made to choose a way to play, healing tree=healing, so no…just because your a hybrid class doesnt mean that you try to fill two spots in a party

  • A raid group will likely not find a warrior as tank, priest healers as much as they can, and that means, any druids, paladins, or shamans can fill their role in at any time, meaning, when you have any of those three classes in your party, and assuming they are able to gear up as different roles, finding another player is much easier, what I mean is that, if you have a druid, a paladin and a shaman in your party, the final slot can be filled with any class and spec, and the druid, paladin and shaman can just play whatever roles as need, whereas if you have a warrior, a rogue and a warlock, you NEED a priest, you just can’t have another class.

    On top of that, there are certain benefits to the hybrid classes, like in-battle resurrection from Druids, Paladin auras, and Shaman totems. As you can see, and it’s not as if a warrior necessarily tanks better, or a priest heals better, each individual player is different, I’ve seen paladins who healed and tank better than warriors and priests, and druids who healed and DPS better than priests or rogues.

    The point is, this is not a two-dimensional game, there are a lot of factors to consider, rather than, “The best party has the best tank, the best healer, etc.”

  • Hybrids are underpowered? Bullshit. If anything, hybrids are outperforming their ‘pure’ counterparts. Nerf Druids kthx.

  • I’ll agree with the idea that hybrids have a lot of responsibility, I play a druid, and I have at least 6 sets of gear between the 3 specs. But hybrids aren’t left behind, they just need a few sets of gear and a re-spec.

  • Personally I belive that Blizz did a good job on the Hybrid classes. The Resto Druid (what I play) is near impossible for others to kill and I deal massive ammounts of healing. I can also tank, it works really well. Also, always playing in a group is not always possible for friends who have conflicting schedules. Sometimes you have to play solo and being able to heal yourself while your tanking mobs comes in handy…

  • Having played a hybrid for a couple years now, and as well as leveling pure classes, rogue/mage/lock, I can tell you there is no better class then a hybrid. you can say what you will, I won’t be back reading this ne ways. You have a big misconception of the party=3 math. You bring a hybrid that has a spec to deal damage and heal…ie the Druid(OP and you can’t stop blizzard so ROFL) and he has equal gear for both, when asked to deal damage he does, when asked to heal he switches gear and he does, he also has a tank set which he dons and tanks and then to top it off the ole’ PVP kill you OPness set. Yes i carry all these with me because even raiding you will never fill your bags with loot so have a few spots open for that. Now ask the lock to heal, ask the mage to tank….hmmm can’t do it, except for a few fights locks can tank but you get the jist. So the party of 3 just went to a party of 4 since the hybrid got 1.0 for damage and .5 for tank and heal. The hybrids are harder to understand and even harder to play, which is the attraction for the good players. Seems to me most of you try to play them and suck at it giving the hardcore hybrids a bad name. If I wanted to play a class that could just point and kill something at mere sight, i’d just go back to diablo and load the mod for God Mode and kill you. Skill is what tops the list for a hybrid, since most players lack the necessary skill to play one correctly it is easy why people are confused as to why smeone would play one.

  • Well I played a Shaman in WoW up until about 2 months ago, when I finally got sick of the crap my shaman was put through.

    I’m looking forward to Warhammer Online’s classes such as the Warrior Priest and the Goblin Shaman as everything that I have seen and read makes me believe it could be quite possible to have hybrid classes work. With EA Mythic’s focus on making all classes have some sort of hybridism to them, this could be either the first MMO with potential to make hybrids cool or a horrible failure on the part of classes.

  • Oh cmon, this isn’t true.
    WoW HAS a true hybrid in the game, and that’s the feral druid. He can put out good dps in cat, and great tanking in bear, you just need 2 sets of great gear. Usually I agree with you’re blog, but as a 70 feral currently at 2/6 MH, it isn’t true.

    Apart from feral druids, you’re also not really right. When we need another tank, my druid guildmate respecs feral. When we need another healer, he respecs resto. When we just need another dps, he respecs feral cause he has better gear for that. Pretty much every evening, he has another role. I mean, if your guild doesn’t take you cause you don’t heal like a priest, do dps like a rogue, or don’t tank like a warr – /gquit now.

    Also, we should give the dalai lama WoW. I think they’d all roll a healer.

  • Having played a lock almost exclusively for over a year, I gotta tell you that when building a party, the flexibility of a hybrid class is enough to make me want to prioritize them over pure classes a lot of the time.

    In PvP, this is obviously not true (not that the holy trinity exists in PvP anyway), but in PvE, a good Druid or Shaman is not in any way less desirable than a Warrior or a Mage, plus, the hybrid allows you more options for all your other party slots.

    Also, the game is just plain more complex than you make it out to be. I would always choose a pally to run as tank in Scholomance, for example. Shamans are INCREDIBLY useful in Slave Pens, whereas a Rogue is just not ideal in most SP parties. The game has too much variety to really pigeonhole anyone who doesn’t want to be pigeonholed, hybrid class or not.

  • I think what you’re trying to say would pretty much be resolved by the hint blizz gave at giving players two specs they could swap in between without visiting a trainer, would mean as long as you have more than one gear set you would be able to swap you spec and gear during an instance run to fill more than one role. Although, granted, it might not mean you could fulfill multiple roles all at once, unless you had one “hybrid” specc and one “pure” specc.. Maybe it won’t solve anything after all lol

  • Feral druids still remain fairly successful tanking/dps hybrids and they remain very effective in both the roles (they can off-heal quite decently too, if given time to switch gears). As for the other classes – what do you expect? A class that could be just as effective at multiple roles as the more “specialized” classes (though in fact these classes are usually pretty generic in their chosen roles – it’s the hybrids who are typically specialists, funny enough) would immediately upset the balance of the game. Right now every class and spec is somehow useful and desired by the high-end guilds (well, maybe except the retridins…). It’s really not easy to balance 27 specs so that they work together and none are obviously overpowered. Blizz managed to do it, and it’s mostly fine. IMO you are looking for problems where they simply don’t exist.
    I also have no idea whatsoever what does “ppl like to do damage” opinion have to do with it. Firstly, it’s not true – if it was, there would always be a shortage of healers/tanks and it doesn’t happen. There was a research done once (sadly, I no longer remember where I found it) about the motivations people follow when choosing class and spec. It appears male teenagers actually do prefer to play as dps. However, older male and female (regardless of age) players choose healing classes much more often, and people who like to lead others often pick tanking specs.
    Secondly, whether it’s true or not, the fact remains that a character who could both heal and dps just as effectively as dedicated healers/dpsers would make the latter redundant and break the game. Elemental shamans are pretty decent healers and Resto shamans are pretty decent dpsers. Same could be said about other hybrid classes, and that’s as far a it goes. Anything beyond “pretty decent” would be way over the top.

  • Completely wrong.

    Just because a shaman CAN be either healer or dps, does not mean he is worse in either of those fields than lets say a warlock or priest.

    Who on earth attempts to raid or do instances end-game as half healer half dps? Thats idiotic.

    If anything, Elemental shamans are one of the least gear-dependant classes, and can dish out some of the best dps ingame, just as they are also awesome healers.

    I have my doubts that you even reached 70.

  • @Jason Borne: You’re right. Doing instances end-game as half-DPS and half-healer is dumb. That’s exactly the point I’m making. Blizzard’s original vision for hybrids failed, because people don’t want to be half-good at roles. The solution it came up with allowed those classes to specialise, but it eliminated true hybrids from the game. Ultimately it was a good idea, seeing as they’re impossible to balance.

    FYI, before I quit, I had two 70 druids and a 70 paladin. So I’ve seen my fair share of end-game as a hybrid.

  • I hate to go in to more the actual class’s of wow rather then the article it self, but the last post by negative zero caught my eye.

    The comment of the prot paladin not being able to tank as well but brings buffs and heal, this on the surface might seem like a nice trade off except for the fact that with in the paladin class, all three specs can fill in the roll of all the extra utility that negativezero stated.

    Therefore there is no unique reason there, all the prot paladin ends up being is a sub par tank with no trade off. This is a prime example of the article in action.

    The Hybrid shouldn’t exist if this is the case and instead each class should try to be as equal to the holy trinity as possible, having the utility what separated them apart. this would eliminate the problems and give each class it’s only unique elements.

  • i have recently started playing wow. because i am new and joined to play with my husband i was directed as to what i should go for. i love having a hybrid (i currently play shaman as my main character). its great to feel useful as a healer but still be able to play solo to level up. i have dabbled a bit in other characters (paladin, warlock) and i enjoy testing out each class. i dont raid and rarely do dungeons but when i have i had fun. the game is what you make of it.

  • In theory i agree with you m8. But in situation as wow where you have allready “hibrids” you cant remove them cause they dont work or as blizzard do ignored them.
    When ppl argue about wow hibrids they allways take druid as model, they are well balance but they ARENT same as shaman/paladins which have big mechanism/skills problem and which are ignored deeply from blizzard with excuse: “will fix them in next patch”.
    Atm gap beetwen paladin/shaman and other class in balance or role is huge atm, small fix cant change anything.
    All in all, this issue will stay untill ppl stop playing that class or “forum critical mass” rise too high, in that point blizzard will took in consideration customers but problem will be started to be fix in long term(in 1 year or more)

  • I think you forgot that World of Warcraft have more “hybrid” classes than you mention.

    Here is a more complete list:

    Warrior. Hybrid roles: Boss Tanking, Melee DPS
    Priest. Hybrid roles: Healing, Caster DPS
    Druid. Hybrid roles: Melee DPS Tanking, Healing, Caster DPS
    Paladin. Hybrid roles: AoE Tanking, Healing, Melee DPS
    Shaman. Healing, Caster DPS, Melee DPS

    That leave only four “pure” classes:
    Mage. Primary role: Caster DPS
    Warlock. Primary role: Caster AoE DPS
    Hunter. Primary role: Ranged physical DPS
    Rogue. Primary role: Melee DPS

    Now, having said that. ALL of the “hybrid classes” i mentioned can only spec and gear for ONE role at any given time.

    Paladin are EITHER Protection geared+specced for AoE Tanking OR Holy geared+specced for Healing OR Retribution geared+specced for Melee DPS. Unlike Shaman and Druid – Paladin does NOT have synergi between the talent specs to take on more than one raid role!

    Warrior are EITHER Protection geared+specced for Boss Tanking OR Arms / Fury geared+specced for Melee DPS. But an Arms / Fury specced warrior can switch into protection gear and act as an offtank. So I guess that make Warriors more of a Hybrid class than Paladins.

    Priest are EITHER Holy geared+specced for Healing OR Shadow geared+specced for Caster DPS. But a Shadow specced priest can switch into healing gear and act as an offhealer. So I guess that make Priest more of a Hybrid class than Paladins as well.

    Shaman actually have mechanics for casting heals even when specced and geared for Melee DPS. Healing gear do have spelldamage components and thus can Elemental and Restoration cover each role a bit as well.

    Same goes for Druid. They can successfully spec restokin for both healing and caster DPS with the same talent build. And feral can swich between tanking and melee DPS on the fly with the same talent spec – and feral in cat form recieves quite a lot extra +healing based on attackpower which let them cast a HoT and then return to Cat-form on the fly.

    So the breakdown.

    Pure classes:
    Mage
    Rogue
    Hunter
    Warlock
    Paladin (is 3 different pure classes)

    Hybrid classes:
    Priest
    Druid
    Shaman
    Warrior

  • Just to make a comment, I MT and OT t5/t6 content, we run with 1 warrior tank and 2 paladin tanks, we’ve run ssc with this setup and done all but vashj and kaelthras with it and we’ve done solarian and void reaver this way, but also on bosses where you only need two tanks like rage I can throw on a healing set (which has 2k bonus heals and 20% crit) and heal almost as well as our other healers, and in fact we took rage down with just 1 priest and I up.

  • Some of these people commenting don’t even seem like they read the entire article. How depressing. Anyway…

    You’re quite right in your assessment of how hybrids in World of Warcraft panned out for the most part. Nearly every class is a “hybrid” baseline before talents, even Warriors (DPS/Tank), Priests (DPS/Healers) are hybrids as far as WoW is concerned.

    World of Warcraft breaks the hybrid mold by removing jack of all trades elements by specializing via talent points. A warrior spec’d Protection is no more a DPS class than a Protection spec’d paladin is a healer.

    The biggest problem is no longer a question of is a class a hybrid or not in my opinion, it’s balancing the classes specializations around their peers in whatever specialization is in question. For example, balancing that elemental shaman (that is no longer an effective healer) against it’s mage counter part, balancing that Ret paladin (no longer an effective tank or healer) against it’s rogue counter part, etc.

    This is where the conflict for most hybrids stem. The “hybrid” that is no longer a hybrid because of spec wants to be competitive with the peer that is a “pure” class (rogue, mage, warlock) but the “pure” classes feel that making the hybrid on par with them (not better but just on par) threatens their own viability in the role they provide (i.e. DPS). To combat this Blizzard has taken the route of making “hybrid” classes very buff/group orientated to force a type of synergy between the “pure” classes and Hybrids that effectively force hybrids into the balance of the game. For example, a high end raid guild without an Enhancement Shaman to buff it’s melee DPS is absurd or a Shadowpriest to buff it’s caster DPS/Mana returns.

    I suspect that we’ll continue to see this type of balance take place for quite some time.

  • On paper, that theory works and makes sense but your conclusion is too broad. I don’t think it’s fair to say that, given the limited metric by which you are measuring a class (essentially, group performance in pve encounter), the very notion of the hybrid is flawed.

    When you throw PvP or any other non-pve group-based activity in an mmo whose “stick” offers a “carrot” comparable to that of the pve group-content, a whole different metric is involved and balance becomes a much more difficult, dynamic matter. I think WoW has done a pretty admirable job of this and it looks like AoC will do an even better job, if Funcom ever figures out how balance works (they seem to take the D&D/kitchen sink approach and just make everyone at least a little bit of a hybrid).

    AoC is also interesting as at least 2 of the 3 healer classes dominate the endgame servers. When I hit 70 on my sword and board guardian a couple of weeks ago (of which my guild has too many) I was asked to switch to level up an assassin or demo. Point being, we had way too many healers and tanks and not enough pure damage dealers. And I know for a fact that this is a situation not at all unique to my guild. While this does go some ways to proving your point that pve damage is an important metric, it also points out that there are ways around making this the end-all-be-all metric.

    Furthermore, the point system you use is inherently flawed, I think, as it skews too heavily in favor of the pure classes. I cannot think of ANY current generation MMO that has a “pure” class outside of a specific spec. So a Prot Warrior would be a 1, but a differently specced warrior could be a .7563 or something. WoW has taken great lengths to stretch the basic holy trinity thinking by creating counters that rely on caster tanking, and have pushed the notion of “pure” classes being the only desirable classes to the side a bit by introducing incredibly valuable utilities skills to hybrid classes. Are two pure classes usually more desirable? Of course. But are they necessary? Rarely.

    And that is really the crux of the issue: too many players want to have their cake and eat it too. Hybrid class players want to be as good as a pure class player (I like that phrase “pure class player”). That has to do not with balance but with perception. Frankly, I don’t think that this _has_ to be the perception, either, as both AoC and the upcoming Warhammer online have taken great strides in eschewing this thinking. The problem with WoW was one of the things that made it great: it played it safe by taking every great thing from previous MMOs and not coming up with much new. Part and parcel of that “theft” was the lifting of the holy trinity. Ask anyone in AoC if they prefer having a ToS to a PoM and they won’t be able to answer you. Some will point out that in a few situations one does better than the other (but neither is the best healer). That is true also for all of the damage classes. I guess the point I’m trying to make is is that if there are no pure classes offered, then the whole “there can be no hybrid” argument just dissapears.

  • I’d argue that there is still one Hybrid in WoW. The feral druid only requires a change of gear to go from one a really good tank (some warriors argue there are better then them) to a decent if not good damage dealer (and again some would argue too good a damage dealer).

    Don’t take this the wrong way, just pointing out that infact, even with talents WoW still has one Hybrid that meets your definition.

  • I play a 70 resto druid, and I’m a semi-hardcore raider. I do not have a million alts, and have only changed my spec one time – around lvl 40 when I went from partial balance/mostly resto, to full resto (1/0/60).

    “with the correct spending of talent points, WoW hybrids can fill the roles of the primary classes they’re based on, as long as they’re willing to not be a hybrid.

    Yes, some flexibility remains, but not enough to really be called a hybrid. No, the WoW hybrid is now a class that can change its role with talent points rather than a re-roll. It’s definitely a way of solving the problem, but put simply, WoW no longer has true hybrids.”

    I personally, carry several gear sets with me – my healer gear, which is almost always on, DPS, Tank, and 2 PvP sets: 5 gears sets in my bags at every moment. I am our guilds main healer- when we raid, it’s not a “pure” priest that they call, it’s a resto druid. When we happen to have a spare healer along, no matter the class, I tend to become the versatility button.

    There have been several instances where I may be needed for healing here and there, but not much, so I pop out of tree form and start caster DPS. When we come to a place where an extra tank comes in handy, I pop my tank gear on, and off-tank – I’ve even been the off-tank during boss fights with/without adds, with out so much as touching my talent points. When tanks aren’t needed, and there’s no chance I’ll be needed to heal for at least 10 minutes, I pop on my DPS gear and go cat if it seems a better idea than caster DPS in that circumstance.

    While I’m terrible on the damage meters compared to a DPS class, I’m a fairly decent tank, and I tend to be above and beyond your “pure” healer in both raw and effective healing by a long shot… without touching my talents, and only the occasional gear change (which is solved by having a mod to allow for one touch gear swapping). I AM a hybrid, no matter what my talent tree says, and I have seen plenty of other druids that function the same way. We have several in our guild, and PREFER them over pure classes the majority of the time. As Arienae said in regards to pure classes, “these classes are usually pretty generic in their chosen roles – it’s the hybrids who are typically specialists.” Hybrids require flexibility, along with the ability to think ahead in order to truly play well. The hybrids you refer to as being sub-par are the hybrids who are lacking skill, or who were played as an alt. Any hybrid with a good attitude and any kind of skill will find its home in a raiding guild, ours or any other.

    When counting pure classes, you’ve completely left out the mage and hunter- and left out all caster DPS on the behalf of hybrids in the process. I don’t see any explanation for leaving out the caster DPS in your arguments. Perhaps you also find this to be part of what doesn’t work, but in my opinion, it appears more as though you just didn’t do your homework. Having 2 70 druids a a 70 paladin doesn’t lend credit to your arguments – there’s not a lot of chance that you tried all 3 specs for each(or a hybrid of the 3 specs), raided with them, and also tried to be versatile with each one. It’s also not very likely that a high level of skill, or understanding of the class, was reached on both classes – you refer to hybrids not being viable in hardcore raiding, and yet it is the hardcore hybrid raiders who will tell you that your arguments are missing the bigger picture.

    “The game has too much variety to really pigeonhole anyone who doesn’t want to be pigeonholed, hybrid class or not.” -Kerrik

    There’s too many factors, too much variety, and too many ways of doing things for any one class to truly be frivolous or excluded altogether.

    -Kuradora, co-guildmaster of Chaos Requiem – US Sen’jin server

  • well, to have played as a druid i believe you should know then that a feral druid is in fact a true hybrid, with just two, or indeed one set/s of gear you can fulfill a tank and dps role.

  • Healing is something that Blizzard has taken great pains to equalize over their 4 healing capable classes- while some encounters will favor the natural abilities of a priest, others a druid, others a shaman or pally, any one can heal any 5 man if they’re equivalently geared. What gets more imbalanced is when those hybrids are damage specced- Bliz seems to have made a choice between a vital group roll- healing or tanking, and having crowd control. All pure damage classes have at least one decent form of CC- each with some limitation, but it allows them to neutralize a monster for a while and kill something else. No class capable of healing has this. That’s where enhancement shaman, ret paladins and boomkin suffer most, I think.

  • I guess I’m in the low end of the player scale; I prefer to heal far more than I prefer to DPS.

    In fact, I always believed that there should be a henchman system (or a sidekick system) a la Guild Wars where you could pick up a tank, healer, or DPS to quest with you while you were solo.

    If that happened, I *could* “heal” my way to fame and fortune. But as it stands, only Warlocks and Hunters get pets, and true healers have to bite the bullet.

    Although I will say, with the advent of spell damage on healing gear, this has become quite a bit easier. I have no problem doing dailies on my Resto Druid or Holy Priest (yes, I have both, on the same server too.)

  • You say that a party needs to equal 3, 1 tank, 1 healer and 1 damage. That’s fine, I get that. Then you say that, “Oh, you have a tank/healer combo so that’s .5 healer and .5 tank”; this is where you’re incorrect, and here’s why, in my opinion: I play a level 70 Prot. Paladin in WoW, when I go into a group, I’m 100% tank, NOT 50% tank and 50% healer, try becoming a healer while holding multi-mob aggro (as a Paladin tank is supposed to), it doesn’t work. Plus, have you ever had a pure hybrid party? Personally, those are a lot better in my opinion, my guild heroic group is usually as follows: A Paladin tank (myself), a damage Druid, a healer Shaman, a damage Shaman and a Rogue (which is pure, but we love her anyways). That party has never let me down and we very rarely wipe, but, hey, you’re the author and you can say what you want; even if it’s wrong.

  • lmao at this article. The article is founded on the concept that a hybrid class is only half a “whatever”, why don’t you support this claim with any evidence? A resto shaman is not half a holy priest, a feral druid is not half a prot warrior, a prot paladin is not half a prot warrior. Blizzard has done a pretty good job keeping them on par as long as you place your talent points and use the right gear. This article feels like is was written by a child who rolled a shaman and quit the game. This article is a disgrace to journalism is any form.

  • Fascinating how the “RPG” part of the MMORPG so often gets overlooked. Paladins, Druids and Shamans represent something to those of us who have been role playing since the beginning–some of us are more interested in playing the part than having a class that can instantly one-shot an “end game” instance. I wouldn’t want to trade my paladin or druid for anything.

  • The difference between a person who plays a shaman, specializing as a healer, and gearing his character as a healer, and the person who plays a shaman, specializing as a half-healer, half-damage (whether its spell or melee damage), is INTENT.

    The first player INTENDS to be a pure healer. He WANTS to be a pure healer, thus he excels at it. The second player WANTS to be a hybrid, he GEARS up for being a hybrid, thus he doesn’t excel in either role, but is able to quickly shift roles in combat from damage to healer, and vice versa, should the need arise.

    This article might hold some weight in “Classic WoW” when paladins and shamans were terrible pure healers, BUT, in Burning Crusade, they have been fixed to the point where, each Healer-capable class (hybrid or not) has a niche, such as single target (tank) healing, or Area of Effect healing (the rest of the group). For example, Shamans and Priests excel at AoE healing, and Paladins and Druids are GREAT for single target healing.

  • Some of you need to re-read this part. He is not saying you can not go deep in one tree and do a great job. What IS being said is you can not have 1/2 your points in Balanced and 1/2 in resto and be good at both to the point that the party does not need a Ture full time healer. I understand what is being said and agree. Haveing played a druidfor 2 years and being told ” If you want to raid with us you must respec resto” all the time sucks. If I could be a TRUE Hybrid I would have no problem, just change my gear and i am good to go.

    “The designers of World of Warcraft decided not to take the D&D way of balancing hybrid classes. Once they clicked on to the fact that “half and half” hybrids don’t work, all classes that fit into the category were fundamentally changed. Now, with the correct spending of talent points, WoW hybrids can fill the roles of the primary classes they’re based on, as long as they’re willing to not be a hybrid.”

  • I couldn’t agree more on your points on how wow has tried to push most hybrids into pure roles, it makes for characters that are good at one thing and crappy at a couple others, but great at nothing, you’re not even great at changing roles because of the way gear and talents work.

    There are a couple hybrids that do work in wow though–shadow priests and feral druids. Ferals suck at pvp but in pve they can do a good job of either damage or tanking and that’s quite valuable to raids, hence why they get used. Shadow priests do good damage while also giving mana regen.

    Both of those cases work because those two specs are the ultimate in their niche; shadow priests are unparalleled at mana regeneration and feral druids are unparalleled as a tanking/dps role changer, despite having to suffer tanking stats on dps gear and vice versa.

    The other hybrids can’t be effective role changers and they don’t have anything they’re supreme at so they’re stuck being compared 1:1 with pure classes, which turns out bad.

    So, hybrids each need widely-desired things they can be the exceptional at, it doesn’t have to be dps, tanking, or healing; it can be mana regeneration, role changing, crowd control, decreasing incoming damage against friendly targets, or whatever.

  • Thanks everyone for your comments and feedback, and I appreciate those who understand the article is about the fundamentals of MMO class design.

    @Justin: Not only do I think some of your personal comments are uncalled for, it seems you didn’t read the entire article. I’m not saying a fully-specced hybrid can’t do the job it’s specced for. Far from it. I’d reiterate my actual point, but it’s probably best if you just read the article again!

  • “it makes for characters that are good at one thing and crappy at a couple others, but great at nothing, you’re not even great at changing roles because of the way gear and talents work.”
    Wrong. I could agree with the article’s author that in most cases the “hybrids” have to stop being hybrids in order to be viable (I only disagree that it is a problem or that it could have been done better without breaking the game) but your opinion that the specced hybrids are “great at nothing” indicates lack of experience. Blizzard balanced the hybrid classes very well using one of two ways:
    A) By making them specialists in one particular area of their chosen role. Good examples here would include resto shaman and prot paladin. Resto shamans are second to none at group healing (only CoH priests can compete, but chain heals are often both more practical and more mana efficient) while remaining good overall healers. Prot paladins are capable of holding aggro on virtually indefinite number of mobs, while druids can reliably tank just 3-4, and warriors typically have problems producing any significant threat on more than 2 at one time. This makes them priceless as they can handle situations where other tanks are more or less helpless. They also remain very decent tanks in most other situations and can tank virtually any boss in the game (maybe except Kaz’rogal and Reliquary of Souls, but only these two come to my mind).
    B) By giving them a powerful synergy with other classes. Examples of those would include balance druids and enhancement shamans. Druids can do very decent damage on their own (though probably lower than locks or mages) but they also give the tank 2% more mitigation, give all the physical dps 3% extra chance to hit and give all the spellcasters in their group 5% extra chance to crit. Enhancement shamans will usually fall slightly below the dps of well played rogues or warriors but the extra 10% attack power, windfury totems and totem-based stat boosts more than make up for it. As a result, it is usually more beneficial to add at least one of those characters to the raid than replace them with one more “pure” class such as a mage or a rogue, as the impact they have on the raid is way greater than their own capacity to deal damage. Their hybrid-based additional abilities (both the mentioned classes can off-heal if needed and druids can also res players in combat) are only the icing on the cake. Even without them, they are more than viable.

    This makes the game way more interesting and complex than some new players think. It also means that non-pure classes are just as important and powerful as the pure ones. And if they are not quite “hybrids” anymore… Well, that’s just the way the game works. More than that, this is the way PEOPLE who play work. The truth is, even if you introduced a class that would be just as good at both healing and dpsing as the existing heal/dps specs, that character would still be used at one of those roles at a time. High-end encounters are pretty complex and people need to know exactly what and where they are supposed to do. Telling someone to either heal or dps (or, gasp, tank!) depending on what they think they should do in a given situation is the easiest way to turn a boss fight into mayhem. Probably a short one too…

  • @Arienae: Firstly, thanks for the comment. I just wanted to point out that I never said a properly specced hybrid is no good! I was a main tank Druid for my guild when I played, and I was pretty damn effective.

    I also agree that there’s nothing wrong with the solution Blizzard came up with. It works. People a lot more happier than they were pre-TBC. In the end, that’s what matters.

    What I’m saying in the article is that trying to implement a jack-of-all-trades class in any MMO is close to impossible, if you want it to be a jack-of-all-trades for its entire gaming life. It has a novelty for a while, but once you hit end-game, people don’t want novelty. They want effectiveness. Obviously, I’m talking about hardcore gamers, but that’s where balance counts the most.

    Before TBC, players of hybrid classes had no option but to spend points in their “strong” tree (usually healing) in order to be effective. This proves my point that “true” hybrid classes don’t work – they need the option to specialise properly. And that’s what Blizzard has done. What I’m hoping is that other MMOs can avoid a similar fate as early WoW, and either forget about having true hybrids, or think very carefully about how they will implement them.

  • Actually, that clarification of the power of hybrid classes was pointed at GIMBP and other people who seem to misunderstand the way these classes are balanced in end game content (“hybrids are good at nothing” opinions are still surprisingly commonplace).
    “This proves my point that “true” hybrid classes don’t work – they need the option to specialise properly. And that’s what Blizzard has done. What I’m hoping is that other MMOs can avoid a similar fate as early WoW, and either forget about having true hybrids, or think very carefully about how they will implement them.”
    I can agree with that. MMOs central feature is clearly splitting the roles of individual players in the raid, so that everyone does his assigned job and the team as a whole can complete the challenges thrown at them. There is no room for do-what-you-feel-like approach there and hence, no room for hybrids. Everyone performs one, clearly defined task and they’d better be damn good at doing it. Off-specs are at best an auxiliary feature that may occasionally prove useful. If MMO designers want more diversity than the simple tank-heal-dps pattern, they need to either specialize the classes deeper within these roles or create “support” classes that enhance the performance of “main” classes and are still at least as fun to play.

  • I have a shaman that I play, Rolled it when BC came out becuase I wanted more of the Hybrid type character to play. Personally in my experience, you can spec into one talent tree and still maintan an amount of flexibility. I can main heal any 5 man being specced DPS, just by switching my gear, and spend time off-healing on raids on a regular basis. granted by doing so, my damage dealing drops, but what is more important, my damage numbers, or the raid finishing the boss because I helped heal.

    now I’ll give you that any of the hybrid classes can compete with most of the base classes if played correctly. however they do still maintain some hybrid capabilities. however the player has to be able to play the character good enough for the character to be able to do it. In all cases it all boils down to the skill of the player, and their ability to remain flexible and play the class to its full potential.

  • Hum, so your game doesn’t allow you to play like you want to, maybe it is time to look at other games. Dungeons and Dragons Online maybe.

  • I think the main problem with your article is the concept that a hybrid can be at most .5 dps and .5 tank (or whichever combo you prefer). the fact is that hybrid classes tend to be more in the .7 to .8 range (when properly hybrid speced) compared to their pure counterparts. In the example you give in your original post this tends to mean the you have .7 of a tank .7 of a dps and .7 of a healer. This is absolutely correct for this particular example, but the fact is that not all fights fall within the limits of your example. Hybrids give you the ability to face multiple situations that would otherwise require a party change. Kara has a number of fights that require 2 tanks and others that require only 1, so what do you do with the redundant tank? good luck 9-manning Nightbane and Prince. So when you need to cover all the different scenarios out there you actually want hybrids because you will, in fact, have 1.4 dps, 1.4 tanks and 1.4 healers (for your 3 player example). This doesnt break down in end game, as the boss fights and trash cleanups within any raid will differ greatly. I have raided as elemental/resto prot/holy holy/shadow and I have been successful in all the roles. finishing at the top of the dps/healing charts is secondary to surviving an encounter.

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